Originally published in 2012.
Rudy Gernreich: The Total Look
Recently Madge reported on a wonderful fashion design show, The Little Black Dress, curated by André Leon Talley at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum. Little did she know that in another exhibit right around the corner lay a riot of color in waiting. “The Total Look: The Creative Collaboration between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton” is a celebration of one of the most important collaborations in the history of fashion design. Gernreich the designer, Moffitt the muse and model, and Claxton the photographer who collectively provided the pop era with some of its most memorable images.
The Talley and Gernreich exhibits could not have been more different. Moving from the consciously styled array of black into Gernreich’s 60s – 70s pop culture exuberance was liberating and uplifting; showing once again however you might love black there is power in color!
Gernreich’s Famous Pop Art Designs
Austrian-born Gernreich worked his way up through various women’s wear and swimsuit designers throughout the 1950s and started his company in Los Angeles in 1960.
Having a west coast sensibility liberated him from fashion conventions allowing him to try different techniques and materials including the incorporation of plastic into his more futuristic designs.
Moffitt and Claxton, who were married until his death at age 80 in 2011, had such a tight friendship and working relationship with Gernreich that the three are pretty much inseparable in the making of this distinctive look.
The clothes on display are from Moffitt’s personal collection and left Madge giggling with glee at every turn. Punctuating the collection were Claxton’s iconic photographs that really invoked the era. The gallery’s walls were awash in hot colors of pink, blue, and yellow that really set off the clothes.
The Body Infamous
Gernreich was infamous for designs that drew attention to the female form but was right in the thick of the women’s liberation movement, even designing a more comfortable bra without wire and featuring a front closure. Known for his body-baring swimsuits there was a wonderful array of styles on display.
Of course, you can’t talk about swimsuits without mentioning his most famous design, the monokini; a topless bathing suit that caused a sensation in 1964. Moffit’s beautiful photo modeling the suit is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time.
Holding a place of honor at the back of the gallery next to that iconic photograph, Madge was so excited to finally see that famous suit. It was, however, on close inspection, a bit of a disappointment. Using the swimsuit technology of the day meant it was made with very thick fabric. Plus lacking today’s spandex and with the high waist, the bottom of the back looked more like grandma’s droopy drawers than a sexy siren. Oh, well.
And in the End
Despite that minor letdown, the exhibit was an absolutely fabulous time capsule of a specific place and time. A time that was much more optimistic and forward-looking than today.
Madge had a blast and made a vow to get more color into her wardrobe!
Enjoy this Swinging 60s video of Moffitt in all her Gernreich glory.
Photos copyright © 2021 MadgesHatbox Vintage. We are a proud member of Got Vintage. Check out their website.
Fantastic article! Loved it!
Madge, to read your blog made me smile. The colors are uplifting, even if the famous swimsuit was not. At 14 I was not so fashion conscious as to know of the swim uit at the time. It could have been a couple of years later till the impact of Seventeen magazine took me from 60s Madras plaid shirt dresses and Poor Boy horizontal stripe sweaters to the higher end styles of the 70s.
No matter what the swim suit was made of and the grandmas drawers bottom style that was not where most folks were looking. I would say it was the narrow strapes of the top half-or more precisely the flesh around them. Incredibly controversial for its time.
But then if you want to be noticed it sometimes takes a radical step.
Maybe I should go put a nude on top of a hat and see if anyone notices. Probably not so much as back then.
wonderful fashion and exhibit